The Vagabond: 1784 Indian massacre in Rainbow City


By Danny Crownover

Through the years, many people ask The Vagabond about how the late Jerry Jones, a former Etowah County Tax Accessor, first became interested in genealogy and history. Several years ago, Jerry sent The Vagabond an article.

When Jerry was eight years old, he went with his family to Old Harmony Cemetery in what is now Rainbow City. The purpose was to clean the graves of his family members buried in the cemetery. The next day was Decoration Day, held on the Thursday before the first Sunday in August of each year.

Jerry’s theory is that the Indian massacre, which took place at Old Harmony Cemetery in 1784, is the reason for the date. It has never been changed and is still observed on that day that sometimes falls in July and sometimes August.

Jerry and his family arrived very early in the morning to the cemetery and was given an area that was to be cleaned. Their instructions were to clean every grave of any grass or weeds and then rake and re-mound each grave site.

Jerry remembers being lifted over a large rock wall that surrounded three graves. The walls were high and he could not see over the top. He worked for what seemed endless hours and finally his oldest brother, H.C., told him it was time for their lunch break. He assisted Jerry in climbing back over the wall. Many other people had arrived, and everyone was working in a different area of the cemetery.

Jerry’s family gathered on the hill top under six large cedar trees, and his mother unpacked a large amount of food. While they were eating, Jerry asked his dad, “Is our work about finished?” The reply was, “There is still work to be done.”

Jerry then asked, “Who are all these people buried in all these graves?” His dad replied, “Nearly everyone buried here are kinfolks or connected to kinfolks. That is my mother and my little brother and sister buried right here,” pointing to three graves.

Jerry read the inscription which read, “Lela Gilliland, wife of G. W. (George Walter) Jones,” and gave the dates of her birth and death. There were two small stones on each side of her grave that read, “Louie Jones and Beulah Jones.”

Adjoining these graves under the cedar trees were a number of small markers.

“These are my mother’s brothers and sisters who died while they were young, and the big stone is my grandmother, Mary Jane Bentley Gilliland,” his father said.

Jerry’s great grandfather Andrew J. (Jack) Gilliland was still living and visited the family many times, sometimes staying for a week or more.

The family was standing next to a large area enclosed by a wrought iron fence. They walked to the gate and read the inscription, “W.J. Bentley.” Upon entering, there was a large stone with the name W.J. (William Jackson) Bentley, and on the same stone was Amy G. (Amy Gilliam) Adams, wife of W.J. Bentley.

“These are my great grandparents,” Jerry’s daddy said.

A stone marker located on the other side of W.J. Bentley read, “Elizabeth Stephens, second wife of W.J. Bentley.”

“We called her Aunt Puss,” Jerry’s dad said.

Inside of this same fence were markers for the brother and sisters of grandmother Gilliland and children of William Jackson and Amy Gilliam Adams Bentley.

As the family came out of the Bentley plot, Jerry’s daddy moved over to two stones and said, “These are my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Wiley Buford Gilliland and Martha Burnett Gilliland.”

He moved over a couple of rows and pointed to another stone.

“Now here is Aunt Dame Gilbert. She was a sister of my great-grandmother, Martha Burnett Gilliland, and married Pleasant Gilbert. When I was a boy, they were our closest neighbors.”

As the family was leaving that area, Jerry’s father went to his father, George Walter Jones, and asked if Jerry would like to go with them. They moved down the hill, and as they passed grave stones, one of them would tell Jerry how they were connected to the family.

They came to another plot with a wrought iron fence. Inside were two graves with marble sides and a marble slab over the tops and appeared to be buried above ground.

“These are my mother’s parents. Rev. Charles Best and his wife Jane,” Daddy Jones said.

Jerry asked, “What was her maiden name?” Daddy Jones said, “I have never known.”

Even at this time no one knows the maiden name of Jane Best.

Buried next was Daddy Jones’ father and mother. There was a tall Masonic tomb stone which read, “M. D. L. Jones and his wife Ari Ann Best Jones.”

Daddy Jones then moved his arms around and said, “These are all the families of Hugh Jones.” By that time, they were standing at the big rocked wall that Jerry had spent the morning cleaning.

“These are graves of my grandparents, Hugh and Elizabeth Phillips Jones,” Daddy Jones said.

He said that Hugh Jones had a large plantation in Whorton Bend on the Coosa River and the stones came from a quarry located on the east side of Dunaway Mountain, where the old Agricola Dairy Farm was once located.

Daddy Jones took Jerry to the different graves and said, “Here is Aunt Polly Ann Silvey, and below her, Aunt Becky (Rebecca) Gilbert and Aunt Tula (Taloola) Brown. This is Uncle Edmond C. Jones and Aunt Georgiana Gilliland, a sister of granddaddy Gilliland. They were neighbors on the other side. Here is Aunt Mandy (Amanda) Thomas.”

Daddy Jones then pointed out the markers for two of Aunt Mandy husbands, both named Best. As the family moved up the hillside, they saw a large double marker of Aunt Nannie (Nancy) Gilbert and Aunt Cath (Catherine) Cline, all children of Hugh Jones.

Daddy Jones said, “This is the grave of my brother, John Jones.”

Jerry asked, “Who is the third person buried inside the wall?” Daddy Jones said, “This is Isaac Moragne Jones, the oldest son of Hugh Jones. He was in the Civil War.”

Jerry’s dad said, “We missed the grave of another of their sons up on top of the hill.” He was referring to John S. Jones. “He married Aunt Amanda Newton Yeats.”

As they walked over this large plot, two graves were located next to the rock wall. There was a slab of cement over their graves but with no names.

Jerry asked, “Do you know whose graves these are?”

Jerry dad looked at Daddy Jones, and then Daddy Jones replied, “These are Clayton and James Jones. They were afflicted sons of Edmond Jones.”

This, of course, triggered another question from Jerry.

“Who is Edmond Jones?”

Daddy Jones said, “He was my great-grandfather and the father of Hugh Jones.

Jerry next question was, “Where is he buried?”

Daddy Jones pointed to an area across the cemetery driveway and said, “Inside the rock wall over there. He is the one who gave the land for this cemetery and for the church.”

Inside this wall were four graves. Daddy Jones pointed them out as Edmond Jones and his wife Nancy (Croxton) Jones and Edmond Jones, Jr., and his wife Cynthia Jones. Cynthia was a sister of Elizabeth Jones, the wife of Hugh Jones.

Daddy pointed to a grave just outside the wall and said, “This is Leeper. He was the favorite slave of Edmond Jones. They were very close.”

Jerry asked Daddy Jones if this was the same Leeper that he had met when he had taken him to a barber shop in Attalla a couple of years before for his first barber shop haircut.

“No, but he was a son of the Leeper buried here. The younger Leeper worked on the Gilliland farm for many years but was never a slave.”

Jerry remembered Leeper well. He was in the barber’s chair when a tall, very straight and white-headed colored man walked in the shop. Daddy Jones immediately went to him and shook hands.

Suddenly, the colored man turned and came over to the chair and picked Jerry up and smiling said, “And another little Jones.”

Jerry was shocked and a little frightened but daddy was smiling, so Jerry knew everything was all right. This Leeper lived to be near 100 years old. Jerry remembered he died when he was nearly grown. When granddaddy Gilliland moved to Attalla, Leeper joined him.

Jerry’s next question was, “Who was Edmond’s father?”

Both men stated that they did not know his name. Edmond was an orphan boy and his father was buried at the top of the hill. They could not show Jerry the grave but they knew that he was buried in that area.

Jerry’s father took up the story from there.

“Edmond’s father was moving from Georgia to West Florida along with a group. He had his two sons, Edmond age 5, and another son, age 3, with him. They had camped at the large spring which was located where the latest building of Harmony Baptist Church now stands. They were following the old Indian path that traveled south to Cahawba.

During the night, they were attacked by a group of Indians on horseback. They circled the camp and thought that everyone was dead, but Edmond Jones awoke during the raid and peeped out of the wagon. He saw the Indians on their horses, and one of them had his younger brother in his arms. They rode away, and the child was never found. Jerry’s grandfather thought his name was Joe Jones.

Edmond was found by a white man who had heard of the attack but whose name they did not know. He came to investigate and found the boy and buried the dead. Both Jerry’s father and grandfather thought they were all buried in a common grave.

There were also some Indians that had been killed during the ambush and were also buried at the same site. It is not known if they were in the common grave. Edmond was reared by the man that found him, and when he was grown, he started a search for his family. They said that when the Indians ceded the land in Alabama, Edmond Jones returned to the site of the massacre. He obtained the land where his father was buried and built Harmony Meeting House as a memorial to his father.

Next week: Part II

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